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16 April 2006

I want to state at the outset that I'm not really upset with any single person or organization at the moment,though a situation that came up a few months ago sparked this entry--and I have held it all this time because I didn't want to run the risk of having any person or organization identified by the timing of the posting of a journal entry.  But I just want to address something that has been the raspberry seed in my wisdom tooth ever since I became a critic, and especially ever since I began writing feature articles for the newspaper.  Some of the incidents I describe below have been tweaked slightly to avoid being able to identify the people or organizations I'm talking about. 

Let me first jump back 30 years or so.   Back to the days when my volunteer job was being the publicist for every group I joined.  I did publicity for The Davis Comic Opera Company, the Sunshine Children's Theatre, La Leche League, the Davis Diving Team, the Girl Scouts, and the PTA, and probably some other organizations I've forgotten.

My philosophy of publicity was that you really work at establishing a good relationship with the newspaper.  I worked at courting the entertainment editor(s).  Even when there were personality clashes, I kept my temper in check and went out of my way to be pleasant, going on the theory that I could catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.  I arranged to take a new editor out to lunch once just so she would know who I was when I called and so we could discuss what her way of working was and how I could best accommodate her to increase our chance of having the best possible publicity.

When I publicized an event, whether it was a show or a diving meet or an event coming up at the school, I would check with the paper to let them know what was coming up and ask how we could work together to get this event the best possible publicity.

If the editor said "jump," I asked "how high?"  If the editor wanted something specific for photos or whatever, I made sure that happened.  I got all my material in not only on time, but usually early so that there would be no problem at all with getting it posted on time.

Well, apparently that doesn't hold these days.  If it ever did.  Maybe I was an anomaly.  (But I did get good publicity!)

I understand better than anyone both sides of the street.  I understand the problems involved with putting on a show when your focus is on the performances and the set and the costumes, not not really on publicity ... and I understand the need for publicity.  If nobody knows about your event, it doesn't make any difference how good it is, because they won't come. What gets me angry is when I have to practically beg people to get the information we need to give them a front page spotlight piece for their event.

We don't need much.  We need at least one interview.   We need good quality photos.  In exchange for an interview and letting our photographer come and take good quality photos, we will give you a front page spread, generally spilling over to the inside pages.  We will print several photos and make it all look as pretty and as appealing as possible so that more people will sit up and notice and turn out for your event.  We will write a very long piece highlighting the most interesting, appealing things about your production so that people will want to come and see it.

How could there possibly be a problem with that?

But it's amazing the problems you come up with.

I remember a feature story I did which was positively bursting with possibilities for great photos, but we had to practically drag the person in charge kicking and screaming to set up the photo shoot.  There was this impediment or that impediment, the performers might not be able to show up, it had to be rescheduled once...twice...   It took us DAYS to get the photo shoot set up and it nearly compromised my deadline for getting the article submitted in time to publicize the event.

In the end, the spread was great--fabulous photos and I modestly say that the article was good too.  And I hear they had a great turn-out.

But why did it take such work on my part to give this group free publicity?  It didn't affect me one way or another if the event was a sell-out or not.  I just wanted to help them make it successful.

I've set up interviews where the subjects had such time constraints they really didn't have time for me.  I had to practically beg them to "let me" talk to them so I could write an article about their production so that people might want to come and pay money to see it.  And they usually sounded like I was badgering them.  To GIVE them publicity.

I tried to publicize a guy's show recently and sent him e-mail and called him several times and he never bothered to return my calls.   His loss.  I mean how hard is this:  "Hello, this is Bev from the Davis Enterprise.  I want to write an article about your show so more people can know about it.  I'd like to talk to you, at your convenience."  Why would you not return a call like that?  When I went to review the show, he laughed about not returning my call.  Later I heard they had to cancel one performance because of low audience turn-out.  Uh.....might a little publicity have helped?

There is one group that is always surprised that I ask for a photo.  It never occurs to them that the newspaper might want a photo to publicize their show.  Often the review gets run without a photo, and people are less likely to have their eyes drawn to it as a result, so fewer people know about the show.

There have been a few shows where I have offered to drive long distances because the group was not rehearsing in Davis, and even then there were impediments, reasons why the people in charge were reluctant to have me come.  I'm willing to drive an hour each way to give you the best publicity, even though I am not being paid to do it, and there is reluctance to let me come...or if not reluctance, exactly, some impediment to getting it done.

Well, hell, people--this is YOUR show, not mine!!!  You could really meet me at least half way.  Even the best show in the world needs an audience.

There are other people who are never ready for a photo shoot.  They want the publicity, but you come and there are no sets, barely any costumes, and somehow the photographer is supposed to make it all look like a production ready to open and the theatre folks are irritated with you because you expect people to look like they are doing a show that people might like to come and see.   But if the article isn't what they were hoping for, you'll definitely hear about it.

I've been doing this now for six years and it's amazing how many frustrations there have been giving the best free publicity to an organization.  Then if it doesn't go right, or if it's not quite what they wanted, it's somehow my fault.

There is one director in town who is WONDERFUL to work with because, like me, this person has also worked on the publicity end of things.   This director calls far enough ahead to set everything up, makes sure that there are enough finished costumes and set pieces ready for the photographer so that we get good shots.   I love working with this director.

Some companies want me to come and review them, but I have to remember to check their web site to know when a production is coming up (and one company doesn't put up the information until a week or so before the actual production, so occasionally I don't even know that there is a show coming up).  They send me no information about tickets and if I leave a message on their answering machine or send e-mail to their e-mail address letting them know that I'm willing to come and asking that they confirm that they have received my message, nobody ever returns the call or e-mail.  It always takes a follow-up call on my part.  To give them a review they have requested!  One theatre I contacted by e-mail when I was going to be out of town and unable to call the week before the show opened never received my message because the ticket person who picks up the messages had gone on vacation and wouldn't be back until after the show opened.

Well....duhhhh!  (By the time I made my follow-up call, opening night was nearly sold out and I was seated way over on the side.)

The other thing I always did, as a publicist, after the editor had given me great publicity for my event, was that I always sent a note or called afterwards thanking her for going the extra mile and helping make the event a success.  I always figured that it would make him/her more willing to go the extra mile for me the next time. I like to think that it did.

I can count on the fingers of half of one hand how many times in the past five years I've received any positive feedback from any of my spotlight articles by the organizations about whom I have written.  It doesn't make me feel any less like wanting to do a feature article the next time, but once in awhile it's nice to know that your work is appreciated.  I have been called by a couple of people, genuinely appreciative of the work that I did for them, and they have a special place in my heart.

Some day I'm going to run into a publicity person who works the way I worked for so many years.  I will love him/her forever.


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